Beowulf and Michael Wood

Watching a very interesting programme, again part of the BBC’s poetry seaon, on the BBC iplayer – Michael Wood’s exploration of Beowulf.

Wood, with his usual, though slightly older, boyish enthusiasm takes us on a cpativating exploration of this stalwart of English poetry – the beginnings of our culture, and the high point of Anglo Saxon oral tradition. 

More interesting than the poem itself though, were the cultural references and extant traditions which Wood sought to explore. So, we see a famous actor performing the poem to a rapt audience of East Anglian reenactment enthusiasts; the poem is put in context by Seamus Heaney, and Wood explores the remnants of the Anglo Saxon landscape in East Anglia and Northumberland, and Scotland, where we are treated to the the Ruthwell Cross and the Dream of the Rood – all bringing together pagan and Christian heritage, and bringing that tradition alive.  Again, this programme demonstrates the power of the visual – how much more alive must history lessons be now than when I learned of Sutton Hoo, and only had static pictures to view.

I shared Wood’s excitement at meeting the erudite Seamus Heaney, and at visiting what’s left of Bede’s monastery in Jarrow, the home of English History in some respects.

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